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School Psychology Job Description: What You’ll Do

school psychologist walking with young children at school

People with a passion for psychology and for the healthy development of children will find that their interests intersect in the field of school psychology. Studying to become a school counselor, once called guidance counselor, is also a satisfying step in this direction.

Where school psychology differs is in the psychologists’ ability to diagnose and treat disorders. Students may be referred to a school psychologist from a school counselor who believes that the student will benefit from further treatment.

Kids have busier lives and schedules than ever. Some of them face additional stresses at home, with friends or in their studies. Your patient, caring nature and intellectual curiosity can prime you for a successful career as a school psychologist. Your main mission: to help students navigate the tumultuous school years with confidence and success.

What do school psychologists do?

School psychologists assist students at all levels, from elementary school to college. They act along with school counselors as advocates for students’ well-being, and as valuable resources for their educational and personal advancement. As a school psychologist, you’ll first and foremost listen to students’ concerns.

You may help students in processing issues such as bullying, disabilities, LGBTQ issues, low self-esteem, poor academic performance, social anxiety, problems with authority and problems at home.

On the job, school psychologists:

  • Work with school-aged children and young adults
  • Listen to concerns about academic, emotional or social problems
  • Help students process their problems and plan goals and action
  • Promote positive behaviors
  • Meet with parents and teachers to discuss learning, behavioral, familial and social problems
  • Counsel parents on topics like substance abuse and communication
  • Study and implement behavioral management techniques
  • Research and implement learning programs
  • Evaluate and advise school disciplinary practices for troubled students
  • Participate in special education by administering psychological tests

What education or certification will I need to become a school psychologist?

Earning a four-year undergraduate degree is the first step in your education toward becoming a school counselor. A bachelor’s in education, psychology or sociology will best prepare you for your graduate school work, but if you’ve already earned a bachelor’s in another field, that’s OK.

You’ll then need a specialist or master’s degree in school psychology, psychology or counseling. A specialist degree (EdS) in school psychology is earned through roughly three years of graduate study in education and psychology, followed by a year-long internship. Learn more about What You’ll Study.

Every state requires that school psychology professionals be certified or licensed in order to practice. The National Association of School Psychologists offers national certification, which consists of completion of the aforementioned master’s program (60 semester hours), a supervised 1,200-hour internship, and passing the National School Psychology Examination.

Licensing and certification guidelines for psychologists vary by state; be sure to check the guidelines for the region in which you plan to study.

What career paths can I take in school psychology?

As a school psychologist, you can work in various school environments, from elementary through higher education. You can work in state, local and private schools, colleges, universities and professional schools, and vocational schools. If you prefer to work with a specific population, such as those with disabilities, or with a specific age group, there are many opportunities to specialize.

If you’d like to seek more education after earning your master’s and working as a school psychologist, you can pursue a doctoral degree in psychology, whether it’s a PhD or a PsyD. This will require a time commitment of an additional five to seven years, and will broaden your employment opportunities to include academic research, consulting and more.

Learn about Pay and Job Projections for school psychologists.

If you’d like to study human behavior and work with people in a hands-on environment, but aren’t sure school psychology is for you, there are many similar career paths to consider. They include school counseling, educational therapist, mental health counseling, psychiatry, social work, sociology and teaching.